Finally returning to the blog. This is a section of the story from Kristine Finding Home that did not make it into the final book but adds another point of view to Chapter 18, Ordinary People Extraordinary Times.
This story is based on a letter written during the depression,Fredrik Hjelmeland, my grandfather and the letter writer has promised his wife Kristine that he will try to get an extra chicken for the Sunday dinner she will make for their unemployed friends, Louise and Hans Wange and their friends. We pick up the story with Fredrik trying to make a sale.
Letter from Fredrik Hjelmeland in Waukegan Illinois to his brother F. Mikal Hjelmeland in Bygstad, Norway, September 3, 1933.
“For more than three years now, we have been having bad times here in America and it isn’t any better now as far as we can see. Activities within the building trades have completely stopped… Brother it is hard to understand that this can be America. I have never seen a mess like this.”
“So, what do you say Mueller? Barn and house in a package? Better price that way than if you do them separately?” Fredrik stretched back in his chair, full from the hearty midday meal with Mueller on his dairy farm in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. “Safer, too. Did you hear about the place near Brown’s Lake? Barn burned to the ground. Said it was the lanterns the milk hands used.”
The ruddy German farmer sipped his dinner beer. “You’re making it hard for me to say no, Hjelmeland.”
“We’ll make both our wives easier to live with if you add some lights to this place.” Fredrik pressed his advantage as Mueller’s wife topped off their glasses before serving them baked apples. “Thank you, Frieda, the meatballs were delicious. Your meal reminded me of home.”
Frieda smiled as she turned to fetch the dessert but not before lifting an eyebrow at her husband,
“So, you’ll take $25 off if I give you a few chickens?” Mueller asked.
“Not the scrawny ones. One today and one a month until Christmas.” Fredrik was pretty sure he had the sale now. This tight old farmer loved a bargain even though he had plenty of cash.
The trick was to be patient. He’d shared more than one glass of home brew listening to men talk about who was buying, who was going under.
“I’m going up the road to see Kipnes before milking, should I stop back here?” Fredrik asked.
“Can you get here before we milk? I want to know where exactly in the barn you’ll be putting the wires and lights.”
Hours later Fredrik drove through the dusk accompanied by cackling from the back seat. A large hen, with her legs tied together was part of Fredrik’s deposit from Mueller. Kristine preferred her birds butchered but she would not complain over the extra chicken for Sunday dinner.
Hans Wange and Fredrik sat down for kaffe at a table in Kristine’s flower garden. Fall roses and orange zinnias bloomed in the mild September sun. “Almost like Sogn, isn’t it Fredrik? Sitting in the garden after Sunday middag.”
Fredrik passed him the sugar cubes and they slurped the thick, dark coffee through the cube. The children played behind them. Kristine and Louise cleaned up from dinner in the house. Fredrik thought about gardens in Norway. He remembered long summer days but too many Sundays when there wasn’t enough cash for a decent cup of coffee.
“How’s it going? Any job prospects?” Fredrik knew the answer but felt he should ask.
“None here. I heard from my cousin in Minnesota. He said that I could come help him on the farm. We’d have a roof over our heads and something to eat, but it’s been a long time since I was a farmer. And Louise, she’s never lived on a farm.”
“Kristine hasn’t either. She’s never even milked a cow. Must be why she and Louise spend so much time together, complaining about plucking chickens.” They both laughed. Fredrik thought it was the first time he’d seen Hans smile.
“Do you know if your cousin has the land free and clear? If he has a mortgage, you could be worse off than you are here.” Fredrik’s trade was electricity but his passion was real estate.
Han’s smile disappeared. “That’s Louise’s argument. If we’re going to move, she wants to go back to Norway. What have you heard from home?”
Fredrik offered him a cigarette and they both lit up.
“Takk, thanks, I haven’t had many lately. Can’t afford them.”
“What I hear is not good. I’ve thought about going back myself, but my brother wrote, that without the family farm he would have a tough time. Work off the farm is hard to find, especially for tradesmen. It’s the worst in Oslo and Bergen. .” Fredrik said.
Hans didn’t say anything for what seemed a long time. “Well, I guess that leaves me out there too.”
Fredrik sighed, “Ah well, I think things will get better. I like Roosevelt. Maybe he can turn things around. Don’t give up, it took a lot for you to leave Norway and get here. You’ll see, the factories will come back.”
“Maybe, but I tell you Fredrik, it’s a terrible thing to have only bad choices.”
“I’d like to compare the situation with an abyss or bottomless pit. ………. But still, I’m much better off than many in my class.”